Max Verstappen determined to party at United States GP despite punishment threat

Rec Bull guilty of overspending but reigning champion will not let that spoil his fun in Austin

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Max Verstappen says he intends to spend the final four Grand Prix weekends of the season partying over his recent championship triumph, starting Sunday in Austin.

With the driver’s title already wrapped up and Red Bull near certain to win their first constructors’ championship since 2013 in the coming weeks, these are high times for the British-based operation.

At least they would be but for the looming spectre of their cost cap punishment, being the only team to have exceeded the $145m spend limit last season, considered a “minor violation” as they overspent by less than five per cent.

It’s believed Red Bull will not be stripped of their 2021 championship but fury still rages up and down the paddock, not least because of rivals’ assertions any advantage gained one year invariably rolls over to the season that follows.

Some have pointed out that an overspend of a few tens of thousands could be an oversight but a figure closer to $2m could hardly be accidental.

McLaren, banned and fined $100m in 2007 over the Spygate saga, have said a cost cap transgression is flat out cheating and many quarters are calling for a Red Bull punishment that effectively knobbles their 2023 campaign.

For their part, Red Bull resolutely insist their own accounting shows no overspend.

So deciding upon the scale of a penalty has put the FIA in something of a bind given Ferrari also ran into equally dubious waters two years ago (that time supposedly over a fuel flow sensors issue) and the previous FIA president Jean Todt struck a secret deal that has never been revealed.

Verstappen becomes champion in Japan

Another secret deal would leave a bad taste in the mouth for a sport that can ill afford more damage to its reputation at a time when it is enjoying something of a renaissance.

Given all that, Red Bull, a well known party team, are still unlikely to stint in their celebrations.

Time was when Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team rolled into town year after year with another world championship safely tucked away and their focus largely on fine-tuning their post-race party plans at Pete’s Dueling Piano bar in downtown Austin.

But now it’s Red Bull’s turn.

And the throbbing party town that it is, Austin remains one of the most popular venues on the calendar. It has an eclectic music culture and it’s hard not to like a city that has voted in a motto which says ‘Keep Austin Weird’.

Even the weather is on message. Balmy one year and violently unpredictable the next. In 2015 the entire grid was awoken by hurricane warning sirens. Buildings shook but it veered away leaving ‘only’ biblical rainfall.

But Austin still attracts record crowds. Last year’s 400,000 attendance was the biggest in the sport’s history by some distance – remarkable given the Americans don’t even have their own F1 driver.

That’s a significant evolution from the days when F1 raced in Phoenix to smaller crowds than the ostrich race down the road and driver names were so alien a phonetic guide was included in the race programme.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen waves on the podium after winning the 2021 United States Grand Prix. AFP

This year Austin fans will witness Verstappen’s attempt to match one of the toughest records in F1 - 13 wins in a season - shared by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

Given the superiority of his machinery on race day he’s a good bet to do just that on a circuit loaded with high speed, high G, corners that eat tyres and brakes.

And it’s something of an irony that radical rule changes to improve the racing have resulted in the most one-sided and dominant season in the sport’s history.

Designed to generate more competition the outcome, at the very front, has been just the opposite. Lando Norris’ result in Imola is the only time a driver outside the top teams has finished on the podium.

The rule-makers will argue with some justification it’s a case of short term pain for long term gain - history shows each radical change usually results in one team running away with it initially before the playing field levels out.

Of course some are hoping the cost cap penalty soon to be inflicted on Red Bull will speed up that process.

Whatever happens Austin, by it’s very nature, will be a party weekend as well as a race weekend with fans in the grandstands enjoying the spectacle before them but most minds within the paddock focused firmly on 2023.

Updated: October 20, 2022, 5:00 AM